Michael Gibson: Creating Life Experience Through Dramatic Simulations

Serious Games Summit DC 2005Michael Gibson: Creating Life Experience Through Dramatic Simulations (Jerz’s Literacy Weblog)

I picked the wrong presentation to stroll in on a minute before the speaker started. It’s standing room only – three people jumped up and took chairs at the speaker’s table. I’m sitting on the floor, my knee touching the podium where the speaker is presenting.

Gibson promised an inexpensive method, deliverable over the web.

“Failure is the best teacher,” said Gibson, who shared a childhood humiliation – being caught shoplifting candy as a child. The shopkeeper called out “Stop!” and he dutifully emptied his pockets and was exposed before his friends.

The lesson: “If you’re caught stealing candy from a candy store – run!”

That was a life-changing experience (Gibson realized he didn’t want to be a career criminal). The best simulations place the user in the decision-making seat, letting them learn from failures without the career-destroying consequences of failure.

Demonstrated a negotiation game – “The Raise.”

Gibson used the story of the snorkler found dead in a tree ten miles from any body of water – a logic puzzle that leaves out an important detail.

Began with a second-person textual scenario, that leads into a dialogue cutscene, then leads to a multiple-choice sequence. The animation was cheesy, as was the Monty Burns-esque voice for the boss, but the audience clearly enjoyed the presentation. What made the presentation work was Gibson’s articulation of his (not very good) reasons for making choices that lead to amusing failures. I can imagine a student would simply click quickly on the answers – what makes the “game” work is Gibson’s

(Always give a clue in the assessment of the failure. The players who assumed that they were role-playing a competent employee may feel they were cheated by making choices that would have worked in that case.)

[Note – This is very different from the way educational games are presented in K-12 environments, where protecting the student’s self-esteem is an ideological position that limits gameplay options.]

The assumption in The Raise game is that we deserve a raise; the mistake is assuming that the other party has a similar goal.

A good educational game will be built around exploiting a false assumption made by the user.

You don’t win “The Raise” by getting a raise – you win it by convincing your employer that something else you can do is worthwhile to him, and you get another source of income.

When designing an educational game built around this kind of gameplay, start at the end and work backwards.

What are the learning outcomes?

Avoiding and identifying unprofessional conduct

Non-disclosure of conflict of interest

Pushing biased solutions

What assumptions inform the above bad actions?

  1. Everyone does it, so it’s OK.

  2. Speaking out will hurt my prospects.

  3. I don’t need to disclose the conflict of interest because I can be neutral.

  4. Silence means consent.

  5. Pushing one solution locks the other parties out of determining their own results.

What are the failing outcomes?

  1. Everyone gets caught.

  2. All are tarred with the same brush.

  3. You’re told, by a supervisor or judge, that it is important.

  4. One of the silent participants is non-compliant in a settlement.

  5. A better solution exists.

Gibson demonstrated a web-delivered flash game designed to train financial consultants for Canadian farmers.

Early questions sort participants out into groups that are happy-go-lucky and those who are more cautious. The early decisions we make lead to consequences in later chapters. (How you respond to a worker who speaks disrespectfully of clients on one day affects how you should behave in front of the boss when he behaves that way again. Antagonist characters try to drive you towards the outcome of making an unethical choice, which leads to one of six failure outcomes.

One of the design principles was informed by the fact that users who choose an early solution close off the possibility of learning new information that leads to a better solution.

The take-home message: Play to the assumptions of players, by leaving out crucial details that drive the consequences.